Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Cryptomathic HSM Portal

Mike Bond from Cryptomathic gave a talk on their HSM Portal. A Hardware Security Module (HSM) is a certified physically tamperproof device that is used and often mandated in areas such as banking.
HSMs are ancient technology by today's standards, both in respect to the algorithms, parameters and modes in use and the APIs.

Yet an HSM is not "security" in and of itself but a module in a larger system: building such a system securely on top of a HSM is by no means easy.
HSM portal is a solution that offers an higher-level environment to build a HSM-based system. Customers can get the technical details (key length, key refresh time period, algorithms, modes of operation sorted by Cryptomathic and delivered in a configuration file). An API call might now look like "ENCRYPT file FROM alice TO bob", in other words something that non-cryptographers have a chance of getting right.

Three types of crypto-users were mentioned: home-growers, that know little of cryptographic theory and devide their own ad-hoc "cipher" when needed; passable theorists (among whom Mr Bond counts himself) who know the theory and core theorists who are "most likely to have written the theory and founded their own start-up company based on it".

Mr Bond made the point that industry does not care about security as much as compliance. This reduces the incentive to apply theoretical advances in cryptography. An algorithm, mode of operation or API is good if it is standardised and ticks certain boxes rather than if it has a formal proof of security.
In the case of API attacks, compliance boils down to specifying what an honest user should do with the API, not what a possibly dishonest or careless user CAN do.

No comments:

Post a Comment